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SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

It’s senshuraku [the final day] of the 2017 Nagoya Basho, and what an odd tournament it’s been. Things were weird beginning on Day 1 when five out of the seven yokozuna and ozeki lost their opening bouts, and things got even weirder when nearly half of that group withdrew from the tournament before nakabi [the middle day]. So the leaderboard has been filled with a motley collection of mid-to-low ranked rikishi . . . and Hakuho. 

Here on Day 15, Hakuho is still in the lead, the only competitor with just a single loss. And despite the large contingent of challengers throughout the basho, only one remains within striking distance of the lead here on the final day—M8 Aoiyama, who has put together by far the best two week performance of his career. If he wins in his match today against komusubi Yoshikaze, and Hakuho loses to fellow yokozuna Harumafuji, then there will be a playoff where Hakuho and Aoiyama go head-to-head to decide the winner of the yusho [tournament championship].

Another point of drama on today’s schedule is the next to last bout, pitting the two remaining ozeki against each other. Shin-ozeki [new ozeki] Takayasu started the basho out strong but has struggled in Week 2. At first it looked like he’d easily match the double-digit performances that won him his promotion, but after getting his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] he seems to have had a mental let down and hasn’t won another match. He very much wants to go out strong, and get his ninth win and finish the tournament on an up note. His opponent Goeido, on the other hand, absolutely NEEDS a victory as he still hasn’t secured his eighth win of the basho. If he loses today he’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and will find himself kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] for the sixth time in his three years at sumo’s second-highest rank (meaning he’s spent roughly one-third of his time as an ozeki on the verge of losing the honor).

No matter the outcome for the yusho, though, this basho has been marked by the advance of a new generation of rikishi, announcing by their presence in the yusho race that they are forces to be reckoned with. Let the old guard beware. Rikishi like Mitakeumi, Onosho, Ura, and Nishikigi all were among the leaders for most of the tournament, and several notched wins against yokozuna and ozeki along the way. They may not be ready to dominate the sport quite yet, but the new generation has certainly shown that the face of sumo is about to be remade, and that can only be good for the sports long term popularity. 

It’s the last day of the basho, so there let’s take a look at ALL of the matches that have something riding on the outcome. It’s an long list, between 7–7 rikishi who stand poised on the cusp between kachi- and make-koshi plus the unusually long list of conditional special prizes. Plus, of course, the two matches that will decide the yusho.

M12 Arawashi (7–7) vs. M9 Okinoumi (5–9)—Arawashi probably won’t be dropped to Juryo if he fails to win this match, but he will sink to the very bottom of the Makuuchi Division and be in real jeopardy come September. Okinoumi already is make-koshi, but he’d really like to avoid the embarrassment of double-digit losses if he can. (3:02)

M9 Tokushoryu (4–10) vs. M15 Nishikigi (7–7)—Nishikigi was one of the co-leaders through most of Week 1, but had a terrible Week 2. He still can manage to get promoted if he wins here. If not, he’s pretty likely to end up down in Juryo next basho. (3:30)

M6 Ichinojo (7–7) vs. M14 Sadanoumi (7–7)—This is the most painful kind of match—BOTH rikishi are 7–7, so only one can salvage a winning tournament. If desperation makes for good sumo, then this ought to be a corker! (5:50)

M11 Daishomaru (7–7) vs. M1 Takakeisho (4–10)—Daishomaru needs this win to salvage kachi-koshi, but Takakeisho needs it to salvage his pride. He’s had a terrible tournament ranked at M1, but he still wants to prove that he’s better than an opponent ranked ten slots lower. (9:15)

M2 Hokutofuji (8–6) vs. komusubi Kotoshogiku (6–8)—The first of our contingent prize bouts. The Kyokai [Sumo Association] has announced that Hotokufuji will be awarded the kantosho [Fighting Spirit Prize] if he wins this match. Otherwise, no special prize for him. (11:20)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (9–5) vs. M8 Aoiyama (12–2)—There’s so much riding on this match, it’s crazy. First and foremost, Aoiyama must win in order to stay in the yusho race. Of course, he’ll have to hope for Hakuho to lose in order to force a playoff . . . but at least it’s still hope. However, whether he wins or loses, Aoiyama will receive a kantosho [Fighting Spirit Prize] for putting in the best performance of his career and staying in the yusho hunt all the way to the end despite being ranked way down the banzuke. Yoshikaze, on the other hand, wants double-digit wins to ensure his promotion to sekiwake AND the Kyokai has said that he will get a ginosho [Technique Prize] if he wins this bout.  (12:00)

M6 Onosho (10–3) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (8–6)—Another double-contingent match. Both of these young rikishi have had terrific tournaments, but only one of them will get a special prize. If Mitakeumi is the winner, he’ll get a shukunsho [Outstanding Performance Prize], but if Onosho wins then he will receive a kantosho [Fighting Spirit Prize]. The Kyokai can really be cruel sometimes. (13:00)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (7–7) vs. M5 Tochiozan (11–3)—Tamawashi has very quietly put together a really spectacular year of sumo . . . but this match could derail it. In fact, he has been kachi-koshi in ALL of the past six tournaments—a full year of winning, half of those tournaments while holding the rank of sekiwake. If he loses today, it will be his first make-koshi since May 2016. Tochiozan, on the other hand will tie his best record ever if he can win this bout, though unfortunately he isn’t in the running for a special prize (too many other outstanding performers, I suppose . . . but still it’d be a shame to go 12–3 and get no recognition for it). (13:30)

Ozeki Takayasu (8–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (7–7)—This bout truly is for ozeki pride. Takayasu hasn’t had a great debut at the rank, but he wants to show that he’s determined to be a strong ozeki. There’s no better way to say that than to beat the only other ozeki still in the tournament. On the other hand, Goeido once again finds himself at 7–7 on senshuraku. He MUST win or in September he’ll be kadoban for the sixth time. (15:00)

Yokozuna Hakuho (13–1) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (11–3)—This is the bout the whole tournament hangs on. Hakuho and Harumafuji face each other for the fifty-ninth time (Hakuho leads the series 36–22), and if Hakuho wins then he’ll raise the Emperor’s Cup and celebrate his 39th yusho. If Harumafuji wins, and if Aoiyama won his earlier match, the Hakuho will have to fight one more match in a playoff against Aoiyama for the yusho. (15:45)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 14)

It’s Day 14 of the Nagoya Basho, and let me start off by saying congratulations to yokozuna Hakuho for breaking the all-time record for most career wins. Ozeki Takayasu put up a valiant battle, but in the end Hakuho was victorious and notched win number 1048 pushing him past former-ozeki Kaio. There is no doubt that Hakuho is one of the greatest sumotori of all time (and with a sport that has a thirteen-hundred-year history, that’s really saying something), and this really is a historical moment.

Putting posterity aside, though, Hakuho’s win ALSO means that he remains alone atop the leaderboard with a 12–1 record. There is also only one rikishi in second place, M8 Aoiyama, whose win yesterday was more controversial than the yokozuna’s. In fact, I think that he was the recipient of a little Kyokai [Sumo Association] favoritism, getting a crazily favorable ruling from the ringside judges to notch a win over M4 Kagayaki. Yesterday I posited that the Kyokai staged that match-up to give Kagayaki a chance to prove himself. But after seeing how the match played out, I think they put him there because to be a sacrificial slaughter . . . a rikishi of a higher rank who LOOKS like a real challenge but really was “sure to lose.” Why? So that Aoiyama could stay one behind Hakuho and the basho could remain undecided even longer. (It’s bad for TV ratings if the yusho race is decided BEFORE senshuraku [the final day].)

Yesterday’s other yokozuna versus ozeki match was much less exciting, but also newsworthy. Yokozuna Harumafuji pretty much gave Goeido the bum’s rush out of the ring, leaving the ozeki in a precarious situation. His record now sits at 7–6, so he MUST win one of his remaining matches or he’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and next basho will be kadoban [threatened with ozeki demotion] AGAIN. But Goeido must face Hakuho today and fellow ozeki Takayasu tomorrow, and he is clearly the underdog in both matches. But, as I often say, desperation makes for great sumo . . . and Goeido has to be feeling pretty desperate at this point. 

M8 Aoiyama (11–2) vs. M12 Takekaze (8–5)—Aoiyama really dodged a bullet yesterday, but all that matters is that he notched a “W.” Today he’s got an opponent who is significantly lower on the banzuke [ranking sheet] but who has much more experience. Indeed, Takekaze is the oldest rikishi in the upper division, and he’s faced all kinds of champions and would-be champions. The bout will certainly turn on the question of whether Aoiyama can keep his poise and focus and just continue to do the kind of sumo he’s done for most of the past thirteen days. (4:00)

M2 Tochinoshin (8–5) vs. komusubi Kotoshogiku (6–7)—I haven’t shown much of Kotoshogiku this basho mainly because he hasn’t been doing very well. Having fallen below the rank of sekiwake for the first time since November 2010, he NEEDS to win both his remaining matches or he’ll drop out of the sanyaku ranks entirely. Today he faces Tochinoshin who is trying to get promoted back into the sanyaku ranks, and a win here would guarantee there’s a spot for him. (12:30)

Sekiwake Tamawashi (6–7) vs. M4 Ura (6–7)—How cruel the Koykai is! Matching two opponents who BOTH need to win ALL their remaining matches in order to get kachi-koshi. Both of them have had a mixture of very strong matches (beating top-ranked opponents) and off days (when they lost to inferior opponents). Ura in particular would be just about guaranteed a special prize IF he manages to pull out a kachi-koshi . . . but he’ll get nothing but demotion if he fails. Such is the way of sumo’s pure meritocracy. (13:10)

Yokozuna Hakuho (12–1) vs. ozeki Goeido (7–6)—If Hakuho wins this match, then every rikishi with three or more losses is out of contention for the yusho [tournament championship]. Goeido, on the other hand, MUST win one of his remaining matches or he’ll be make-koshi again and end up kadoban in September. (15:15)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 13)

It’s Day 13 of the Nagoya Basho, and yokozuna Hakuho remains the sole leader with a 10–1 record. M8 Aoiyama is again the lone rikishi who is one win behind him, M6 Onosho having lost yesterday and falling back to join two others—yokozuna Harumafuji and M5 Tochiozan—with 9–3 records.

The biggest “news” from yesterday is that Hakuho’s win over sekiwake Tamawashi was the 1047th of his career tying him with ex-ozeki Kaio for the most career wins. One more win and he takes sole possession of this record and can add it to his already overflowing collection of all-time records.

At this point, we know Hakuho’s remaining schedule. He fights ozeki Takayasu today, ozeki Goeido tomorrow, and yokozuna Harumafuji on senshuraku [the final day]. Given how things are going, you’d have to say that Harumafuji is the only one who is LIKELY to give him a real challenge, but you never know. Anything could happen. I think it’s HIGHLY unlikely that Hakuho would lose all three, though . . . and nearly as unlikely that he’d lose twice. If this is the case, then Aoiyama is the only rikishi who still has a chance to catch Hakuho, and the Bulgarian would have to win ALL of his remaining matches PLUS have Hakuho lose once in order to force a playoff at the end of the competition on Sunday. All the other contenders must win out and hope for Hakuho to lose twice in order for them to get into a playoff.

Harumafuji’s schedule is nearly identical to Hakuho’s, facing Goeido today, Takayasu tomorrow, and Hakuho himself on Sunday. He must win out AND get help from one of the ozeki in the form of an upset over his fellow yokozuna and only then would he get a chance at a playoff.

Aoiyama faces M4 Kagayaki today, and I have to give him a better than even chance of winning despite the disparity in their ranking. Kagayaki has not looked sharp this basho, indeed he’s already secured a make-koshi [majority of losses]. I think the Kyokai [Sumo Association] are giving him this match as a way for him to prove himself. If he wants to mitigate how far he slides down the banzuke [ranking sheet] in September, he’ll have to stop the charge of this low-ranked upstart who thinks he’s worthy to hold the Emperor’s Cup. We don’t yet know who Aoiyama will face on Days 14 and 15, but you can bet that they’ll be ranked near the top of the banzuke, too. If he wants that shot at the yusho, he’s going to have to EARN it.

M10 Shohozan (7–5) vs. M6 Onosho (9–3)—In his loss to Chiyotairyu yesterday, Onosho got his first real taste of an opponent tailoring his fight to Onosho’s style of sumo. In other words, he got played. What’s more, he’d better get ready for OTHER rikishi to begin to do the same, as they all begin to figure out his weaknesses. If he’s going to be more than a flash in the pan, he’s going to have to have more than one winning style of sumo. Onosho must win today if he want’s to remain mathematically in the hunt for the yusho. (4:50)

M13 Takarafuji (8–4) vs. M5 Tochiozan (9–3)—Tochiozan pulled a little bit of magic out of thin air yesterday when he took Takayasu on in a power sumo match and beat the shin-ozeki (just like old times). He’ll hope to rekindle that spark today against Takarafuji, in hopes of staying on the edge of the hunt for the yusho. (6:10)

M8 Aoiyama (10–2) vs. M4 Kagayaki (4–8)—In beating Takarfuji yesterday, Aoiyama showed two things—that he’s still the clumsy doofus that he has been for years (a clumsy doofus with a body MADE for sumo), and that he’s more mentally focused than we’ve ever seen him before . . . EVER. If he can keep that up, he can beat Kagayaki, who is ALSO a clumsy doofus but who also has lacked the necessary focus for most of his matches this basho. If ANY of these situations change, just about ANYTHING could happen in this match. (7:05)

M2 Tochinoshin (7–5) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (8–4)—Both of these rikishi have been having very strong tournaments, and I find myself strongly rooting for them both. But I’ve been rooting for Tochinoshin to get healthy and make a big comeback for more than a year, so he gets my totally fannish vote to win what ought to be a tightly fought match. (10:12)

Ozeki Goeido (7–5) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (9–3)—Harumafuji must win in order to stay in contention for the yusho. Goeido must get at least one win in the next three days to salvage his kachi-koshi. It’s possible that Harumafuji will be the EASIEST of those opponents (the other two being Hakuho and Takayasu). (11:45)

Yokozuna Hakuho (11–1) vs. ozeki Takayasu (8–4)—If Hakuho wins today, he’ll set the all-time record for most career wins. Takayasu really wants to prove that he is a “champion level” rikishi by preventing that from happening. This is the final bout of the day, but it’s also almost certainly going to be the BEST bout of the day! (12:20)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 12)

If yesterday I’d told you that all but one of the rikishi on the extended leaderboard was going to lose, you’d probably have guessed that yokozuna Hakuho would be widening his lead over the entire field . . . but that’s not what happened, is it? Hakuho lost yesterday, as did ozeki Takayasu, M8 Aoiyama, and M13 Takarafuji. Only M6 Onosho won and so the while the names on the leaderboard are more or less the same here on Day 12 of the Nagoya Basho, their order and the sense of drama are significantly different.

Despite losing to sekiwake Mitakeumi, Hakuho remains alone at the top of the leaderboard, the only competitor with just one loss for the tournament. Behind him with 9–2 records are Aoiyama and Onosho. And the four 8–3 rikishi now find themselves in possible contention—Takayasu, Takarafuji, Mitakeumi, and M5 Tochiozan. Things are getting interesting again.

Hakuho’s loss snaps his 25-match winning streak, and puts a momentary hiccup in his quest for the record for all-time most career wins. The yokozuna currently sits at 1048 wins, one shy of former-ozeki Kaio, and two shy of taking sole possession of the record himself and adding it to the vault of records he’s already achieved in his storied career. Hakuho will try to get that pursuit back on track today when he squares off against sekiwake Tamawashi.

The biggest surprise in all of this remains Onosho, who is only 21 years old and is fighting in just his third basho in the top division (and only his 29th overall), yet he seems focused and completely unaffected by being in the midst of a yusho race and facing the best sumotori in the world. I fully expected Takarafuji’s experience to give him the win in their match yesterday, but Onosho completely dominated from the tachi-ai. Today he faces M10 Chiyotairyu (who has a very solid 7–4 record so far this basho), and after that I expect he can expect to be rewarded with matches against M1–M3 ranked opponents . . . perhaps even a komusubi.

M8 Aoiyama (9–2) vs. M13 Takarafuji (8–3)—Aoiyama has another match today that’s more challenging than it might at first seem. Takarafuji may be ranked low on the banzuke this basho, but he’s spent most of the past year up in and around the sanyaku ranks . . . and he’s been in fine form here in Nagoya, already securing his kachi-koshi and needing this win to stay on the edge of contention in the yusho race. Of course, Aoiyama needs it to remain one win behind Hakuho. (3:30)

M10 Chiyotairyu (7–4) vs. M6 Onosho (9–2)—Thanks to everyone else in the yusho hunt losing yesterday, Onosho finds himself back to being only one win behind the leader. The pressure is building now. He’s had a great basho so far, but does he have what it takes to FINISH in the same style he began? (5:30)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (7–4) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (7–4)—Two rikishi who need one more win for their kachi-koshi. Plus it’s Yoshikaze the “giant killer” against Tochinoshin the literal giant. This is the match I’m most looking forward to today. (8:10)

Ozeki Takayasu (8–3) vs. M5 Tochiozan (8–3)—For the first year after discovered that I could watch sumo on YouTube, these two rikishi were evenly ranked and evenly matched. They seemed to succeed and fail in sync, and their head-to-head matches were always among the most exciting of a particular basho. Since then, of course, Takayasu has brought his sumo to a higher level . . . but when they get together, Tochiozan always seems to bring the very best that he’s got, and their matches STILL are usually closely fought contests. (10:20)

Yokozuna Hakuho (10–1) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (6–5)—Okay, it happened. Hakuho slipped up yesterday (well, and Mitakeumi showed us some great moves). His winning streak was broken at 25, and his assault on an all-time career record was delayed. I’ve no expectation but that he’ll get right back on track today, but that’s the funny thing about sumo. If you let something bother you more than it should, it will affect you more than it ought. Let’s see if Hakuho can just pop back into his dominant winning mindset. (11:25)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 11)

It’s Day 11 of the Nagoya Basho and there’s been only a slight change on the leaderboard. Hakuho remains undefeated at the top, followed by Aoiyama with one loss, and a group of three rikishi with two losses (M10 Chiyotaryu having fallen out of this group after losing to Aoiyama yesterday). 

There was lots of terrific sumo yesterday, but only one match that folks are talking about. Holy cats, did you see the Takayasu vs. Ura bout?!? One of the top judges was quotes as saying that the sport hasn’t seen anything like that in 600 years . . . and with sumo, that’s not hyperbole. Unfortunately, Ura walked away from it limping (it looked like he banged his knee when Takayasu threw him off the dohyo). As of this writing, there has been no public statement about how he’s doing, but at least he hasn’t told the Sumo Association that he needs a kyujo day to recover. He’s 6–4 so far this basho, which is terrific for an M4 ranked rikishi . . . but he has to get two more wins or it’s all for naught. Good performances don’t mean anything unless they’re done as part of a kachi-koshi [majority of wins] overall record. If he DOES get eight or more wins (and it seems VERY likely he will) Ura can count on getting at least one special prize at the tournament’s conclusion. 

On the other end, no one other than Hakuho has handled Ura so dominantly as Takayasu did yesterday. He’s having a terrific outing in this shin-ozeki basho [debut tournament as an ozeki]. Yesterday’s win got him his kachi-koshi, and he’s looking strong and confident as he moves toward double-digit wins (something EVERY ozeki should use as the baseline for an “acceptable performance” . . . but too often in recent years has been a stretch for half of the current ozeki). 

On the down side, M16 Gagamaru and M14 Kotoyuki are both 3–7, only one loss away from make-koshi [majority of losses] and far enough down the banzuke that they’re likely to be demoted to Juryo if they have an overall losing record. As it happens, M9 Okinoumi, M4 Kagayaki, and M1 Shodai are also sitting at that cusp, while M7 Takanoiwa, M3 Ikioi, and M1 Takakeisho are 2–8 and already locked in make-koshi. But none of them are ranked low enough that they have to immediately worry about dropping out of the top division. That having been said, once you hit double-digit losses you never know how far the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will drop you on the next banzuke [ranking sheet], so they’d better do what they can to grab as many wins as possible.

M16 Gagamaru (3–7) vs. M9 Okinoumi (3–7)—This match is as far from the yusho [tournament championship] race as you can get—two rikishi who must win out the remainder of their matches in order to get kachi-koshi [majority of wins]. Gagamaru only just returned to the top division this basho, and he holds the lowest spot on the banzuke, so a loss will guarantee him a demotion back down to Juryo. Okinoumi has clearly been injured all tournament, but he needs to notch a few more wins or he might risk being dropped all the way out of the Makuuchi Division. Desperation makes for exciting sumo. (2:30)

M8 Aoiyama (9–1) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–5)—Aoiyama seemed to straighten out his focus yesterday, and he’s still the sole competitor one win behind the leader. Pretty soon the Kyokai [Sumo Association] will start pushing him up the banzuke to fight higher ranked opponents, so he’d better take advantage of this kind of pairing while they last. Of course, while Nishikigi is ranked down at M15, he started the basho with four straight wins and was on the leaderboard into last weekend, so he’s not a complete pushover. (4:05)

M13 Takarafuji (8–2) vs. M6 Onosho (8–2)—Two of the three rikishi currently tied for third place . . . only one of them will remain there after today. Takarafuji is the former sanyaku-ranked rikishi who’s starting a comeback, and Onosho is the young upstart who is excelling while at the highest ranking of his career. (5:35)

Ozeki Takayasu (8–2) vs. sekiwake Tamawashi (5–5)—Takayasu looked strong yesterday against Ura. Today, he’s back facing a more classic sumotori in the rock-steady sekiwake. The ozeki can’t afford another loss or he’ll fall out of all likely contention for the yusho. (9:55)

M4 Ura (6–4) vs. ozeki Goeido (5–5)—Ura faces another ozeki today, this time the inconsistent Goeido. On his good days, Goeido can handle him as easily as Takayasu did yesterday. On bad days, though, I’d give the edge to Ura. Of course, the question remains of how bad Ura’s knee injury is, and whether it will affect his energetic style of sumo. (10:50)

Yokozuna Hakuho (10–0) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (7–3)—Hakuho is still looking strong and in control. He needs only one more win to tie former-ozeki Kaio as the all-time leader in career wins. His opponent today is young, sekiwake Mitakeumi, but he has beaten Hakuho once already in his short career, which makes him a dangerous opponent. (12:05)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 10)

It’s Day 10 of the Nagoya Basho, and yokozuna Hakuho is still alone at the top of the leaderboard and still undefeated. However, ozeki Takayasu’s loss to komusubi Yoshikaze yesterday means that there’s only one rikishi a single win off the lead, and that’s M8 Aoiyama (who only narrowly escaped defeat yesterday, too). There are four 7–2 rikishi still hoping for the leaders to stumble—Takayasu, M6 Onosho, M10 Chiyotairu, and M13 Takarafuji.

The biggest non-yusho [tournament championship] news yesterday was M4 Ura beating yokozuna Harumafuji in their first ever meeting (and just Ura’s second ever match against ANY yokozuna) securing his first kinboshi [gold star award for a rank-and-file rikishi beating a yokozuna]. He was all kinds of adorable in the post-match interview, not knowing what to say, or possibly even where he was. He even shed a tear or two of joy. Today he gets to face Takayasu, so expect THAT to be one of the day’s top matches.

Right now the yusho race hangs on how long Aoiyama can keep winning, and how many rikishi are fighting well enough to even give Hakuho a serious challenge. One more loss for Aoiyama and suddenly the nearest challengers will need Hakuho to suffer TWO losses (while they suffer no more themselves) in order to get into a TIE. And, really, I don’t see anyone other than Harumafuji and Takayasu giving Hakuho a serious challenge (perhaps Goeido if he’s having one of his best days). All the other serious challengers are either kyujo [withdrawn due to injury] or have already had their matches against Hakuho. After starting like a basho that looked like it was going to go down to the wire with several surprise rikishi vying for the yusho, we now have to face the possibility that Hakuho may have sewn up the championship by the time Thursday’s action is done (though admittedly, while possible it is still highly unlikely).

Let’s just keep our fingers crossed for some exciting sumo over the remaining six days . . . lots of genki sumo, and no further injuries.

M8 Aoiyama (8–1) vs. M10 Chiyotairyu (7–2)—Aoiyama had a narrow escape yesterday, but in sumo that doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether you notched a “W” or an “L.” Of course, a near loss can shake a rikishi’s confidence and leave him more vulnerable in the next few bouts. Aoiyama’s lucky in that his match today is not particularly challenging (an opponent who is significantly below him on the banzuke [ranking sheet]), but it remains to be seen where Aoiyama’s head is at. (3:40)

M2 Tochinoshin (5–4) vs. M6 Ichinojo (4–5)—Two of the biggest of the big men who both like to do gritty power sumo. When these two square off, it’s often a long, grunty battle. You know my heart is with Tochinoshin. (5:55)

Komusubi Kotoshogiku (3–6) vs. ozeki Goeido (5–4)—These two were “equals” as ozeki for several years, and that’s going to color all of their future matches now that Kotoshogiku has fallen back to the general ranks. In his mind, he will always be Goeido’s equal (or senior, since he became an ozeki first) and will want to prove it. For Goeido’s part, he is STILL an ozeki and therefore the clearly above Kotoshogiku in status and skill. (10:10)

Ozeki Takayasu (7–2) vs. M4 Ura (6–3)—Ura just went 1–1 against the yokozuna, now he’s going to take his shot at an ozeki. Meanwhile, Takayasu has to rebound from his unexpected loss to Yoshikaze yesterday. This will probably be the best match of the day. (10:40)

Yokozuna Hakuho (9–0) vs. M5 Chiyoshoma (4–5)—Since Hakuho is the sole leader at this point in the basho, his matches are ALL must-watch events . . . even when he’s facing someone that he should beat without any trouble. (13:10)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 9)

Week 2 of the Nagoya kicks off with one man undefeated and alone atop the leader—yokozuna Hakuho. He’s 8–0, one win away from tying the 58th yokozuna Chiyonofuji for second place on the all-time career wins  chart, and just four wins away from passing the great former ozeki Kaio for top honors in that category. Hakuho is looking energetic and inspired this tournament, so it’s going to take some equally inspired sumo to derail him.

Tied for second place here on Day 9 with matching 7–1 records are shin-ozeki Takayasu and M8 Aoiyama. And behind them, just four rikishi are still ostensibly in the hunt for the yusho with 6–2 records—yokozuna Harumafuji, M6 Onosho, M10 Chiyonokuni, and M13 Takarafuji.

One of the most interesting matches for me yesterday was the first-time meeting between Hakuho and M4 Ura. For the past six months we’ve been watching Ura make his way up the Maegashira ranks and noting how even some very accomplished rikishi had trouble adapting to his size and style of sumo. Hakuho, however, seemed not the least bit fazed. Indeed, he was inconrol from the instant of the tachi-ai [initial charge] and in just a dozen seconds or so left Ura flat on his back, nose bloodied, and wondering what the heck had happened. 

Today Ura will get a chance to discover if that was just Hakuho’s magic touch, or if that’s what it’s like to face a yokozuna, as he’s scheduled to face Harumafuji today. Meanwhile, Hakuho will fight another new face—the other M4, Kagayaki, who will hope to at least avoid the bloody nose that Ura suffered. 

M15 Chiyomaru (4–4) vs. M10 Shohozan (5–3)—Two rikishi still on the cusp between kachi-koshi [majority of wins] and make-koshi [majority of wins] and going all out to advance their cause. One of the hardest fought matches of the day. (3:20)

M8 Aoiyama (7–1) vs. M11 Chiyonokuni (3–5)—Aoiyama got buffaloed by Onosho yesterday and knocked off the top of the leaderboard. The question is, can he get himself back in focus and return to his winning ways, or has his magic bubble been burst? (4:47)

Ozeki Takayasu (7–1) vs. komusubi Yoshikaze (4–4)—Takayasu shouldn’t have any trouble hitting kachi-koshi in his debut basho as an ozeki, but he’ll have to do well in Week 2 against fellow ozeki and the yokozuna if he wants to reach double-digits. He’d do himself a big favor today by shutting down giant-killer Yoshikaze, who has already notched wins against two yokozuna and an ozeki this tournament. (11:06)

M4 Ura (5–3) vs. yokozuna Harumafuji (6–2)—Ura got completely schooled in his first ever match against a yokozuna yesterday. We’ll see if he learned anything in particular from that experience. After a slow start, Harumafuji has looked rock solid, but he rarely faces opponents who can match him in speed like Ura can. Luckily, the yokozuna still has experience and tenacity on his side. (12:35)

Yokozuna Hakuho (8–0) vs. M4 Kagayaki (3–5)—Hakuho remains laser focused and in terrific shape physically. Yesterday, he beat an opponent who was equally in the groove . . . his opponent today isn’t nearly that on the ball. Kagayaki is a strong up and coming rikishi, but he’s still learning the ropes when it comes to fighting against top-ranked opponents. (13:25)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 Nakabi [Middle Day] (Day 8)

It’s nakabi [the middle day] of the Nagoya Basho and the leaderboard has simplified significantly. At the top, still undefeated, we have yokozuna Hakuho and M8 Aoiyama. However, all but one of the one-loss rikishi stumbled for a second time on Saturday, leaving just shin-ozeki Takayasu in second place with a 6–1 record. 

What a strange affair Week 1 was, starting with five of seven “champion” level rikishi losing on Day 1, and four rikishi going kyujo [absent for injury] (including two yokozuna and an ozeki). A pack of young rikishi have been holding tight one or two losses from the top and grabbing upset victories over top-ranked veterans. 

On the other hand, Takayasu is putting in a strong performance in his first tournament at the rank of ozeki. (Many shin-ozeki [newly promoted ozeki] struggle with that and put in flat performances in their initial outings.) And Hakuho has been inching closer to the all-time record for career wins. As of today, he needs only 5 more to add that honor to the many other records he’s already set in his illustrious career . . . oh, and he may be on his way to having back-to-back zensho yusho [perfect record tournament championships].

Perhaps most surprising of all, Bulgarian rikishi Aoiyama is having the tournament of his career, tied for the lead on Nakabi and still seeming calm and focused in his sumo (something he often seems to struggle with).

What have we got coming in Week 2? I hardly dare guess . . . except to say that it will surely be exciting sumo!

M11 Chiyonokuni (2–5) vs. M16 Gagamaru (2–5)—Two rikishi near the bottom of the banzuke [ranking sheet] (in Gagamaru’s case, VERY close) who are having pretty bad tournaments. Each can only spare two more losses or they’ll be make-koshi [majority of losses] and face the likelihood of demotion to Juryo. (1:45)

M10 Chiyotairyu (5–2) vs. M12 Arawashi (5–2)—I have no idea what happened in this match. Usually I’m skeptical of calls of yaocho [match fixing], but sometimes you see a loss so inexplicable it seems impossible not to at least CONSIDER the possibility. Watch this match (particularly the slo-mo replay) and see what you think. (2:55)

M6 Ichinojo (3–4) vs. M8 Ishiura (3–4)—The smallest rikishi in the top division against one of the largest. We love these matches because they highlight the raw meritocracy of sumo. It doesn’t matter how big or small or old or heavy you are . . . all that matters is whether you win or lose. (5:05)

M8 Aoiyama (7–0) vs. M6 Onosho (5–2)—Co-leader Aoiyama today faces one of the brightest young stars in the sport today, Onosho.  Based on their strong performances in Week 1, both of these rikishi can expect to be bumped up to face higher ranked opponents in Week 2. But first one of them has to prove himself the better man today. (5:40)

Ozeki Takayasu (6–1) vs. M5 Chiyoshoma (3–4)—Takayasu is looking strong in his debut tournament as an ozeki, and he’s the only rikishi still one win behind the leaders. He has to finish this basho strong, crushing lower-ranked opponents like Chiyoshoma and hope that the leaders stumble along the way. (9:46)

Yokozuna Hakuho (7–0) vs. M4 Ura (5–2)—Hakuho is only 2 wins away from passing the great Chiyonofuji for the #2 spot on the Most Career Wins list. Today that means beating probably the hottest of the up-and-coming sumo class of 2017, Ura. This is the first time these two have ever fought, I can’t remember ever having seen Hakuho have to face a “mighty might” of an opponent. It’ll be interesting to see what tactics he chooses. For certain we can expect Ura to bring his fearless direct assault and try to dive below the yokozuna’s defenses. I’m really looking forward to this one.  (10:35)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 7)

We’re into the middle weekend of the 2017 Nagoya Basho, and ony a pair of rikishi come in with perfect 6–0 records—yokozuna Hakuho and M8 Aoiyama. Behind them is a quintet of challengers with just a single loss—ozeki Takayasu, M4 Ura, M5 Tochiozan, M6 Onosho, and M15 Nishikigi.

Interstingly, three of those names belong rikishi who weren’t even in the top division a year ago (well, the 2016 Nagoya Basho was Nishikigi’s Makuuchi Division debut). Onosho in particular has been putting on an impressive demonstration of fearless sumo, He hasn’t had to face any of the sanyaku rikishi yet (in this or ANY tournament), but that time is coming soon (probably during this basho if he keeps up his winning ways). It will be interesting to see how he handles the challenge when it comes.

M11 Chiyonokuni (1–5) vs. M15 Nishikigi (5–1)—It really shouldn’t be a surprise that Nishikigi is doing so well, given his current ranking of M15. He had a particularly bad tournament in May, but he’s one of the young up-and-comers, and is back on track this basho while having to face the wobbliest of competition. Starting here, they’ll begin to schedule him against higher ranked opponents, particularly ones that didn’t do terribly well in Week 1 . . . like Chiyonokuni. Nishikigi’s first goal is to get his kachi-koshi [majority of wins] as quickly as possible, THEN worry about whether or not he’s still in the mix for the yusho [tournament championship]. (1:38)

M6 Ichinojo (3–3) vs. M8 Aoiyama (6–0)—Aoiyama is a co-leader at this point, so I’ll be keeping a close eye on him while that remains true. And it should for as long as he’s fighting other mid-ranked rikishi. Today the bulging Bulgarian faces off against one of the only opponents who match him in size and weight. Big men doing big-man sumo. (4:00)

M6 Onosho (5–1) vs. M4 Kagayaki (2–4)—Onosho is doing terrific so far, showing confidence and skill . . . very much the way Kagayaki did in previous tournaments. Onosho is doing SO well that he’s just one win behind the leaders. Kagayaki, on the other hand, has been struggling against higher ranked opponents so far this week, and that’s something Onosho will have to be wary of as he rolls into Week 2. (5:12)

M4 Ura (5–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (4–2)—Another pair of young upstarts square off in this match, and again one of them is one win behind the leaders. Ura has quickly become a crowd favorite while Mitakeumi is looking very comfortable in his new rank of sekiwake (the third highest in the sport). This could be the match of the day. (6:13)

Ozeki Takayasu (5–1) vs. M1 Shodai (2–4)—After a shaky start on Day 1, Takayasu has looked very confident in his first tournament at the rank of ozeki. He’s gotten back to the dominant ways that secured him that promotion, and that’s kept him one win behind the leaders. One expects him to have an easy time with Shodai, but you never can tell . . . especially in the middle weekend! (7:16)

SUMO: Nagoya Basho 2017 (Day 6)

Day 6 of the Nagoya Basho and we lose not one but TWO more of the big name rikishi to kyujo [withdrawal due to injury]. Immediately after yesterday’s matches, yokozuna Kisenosato went directly to the hospital to have his ankle looked at (presumably injured in his tumble from the dohyo in his loss to M3 Ikioi). Word is that there was no structural damage to the bones, and there was some thought that Kisenosato might come back to “fight through the pain.” Thankfull, he’s decided that resting that injury, not to mention his still ailing left shoulder, provides a better chance for him to come back FULLY healed for September’s Aki Basho in Tokyo.

Speaking of “fighting through the pain,” ozeki Terunofuji has made that something of his trademark over the past eighteen months, and struggled because of it. In fact, he’d already announced that this was his plan again for the current basho, but apparently getting bodily thrown off the dohyo everyday by rikishi half his size has convinced him otherwise. Terunofuji is also going kyujo as of Friday.

This makes a total of FOUR top-name rikishi out after just the first five days of the tournament, leaving opportunities galore for young, hungry sumotori to step up and stake a claim to the title “next great rikishi” . . . or for Goeido or Takayasu to step up and make a case for being considered for yokozuna promotion. But first, they’re going to have to get past Hakuho, who himself must be thinking that this makes it even more likely that he’ll reach a dozen wins the basho and break the all-time record for most career wins AND do so while logging back-to-back zensho yusho [undefeated tournament championships].

Basically, what was already a wide-open, wildly unpredictable tournament has now had BOTH those descriptions turned up to eleven (maybe even higher).

M11 Daishomaru (3–2) vs. M10 Shohozan (3–2)—These are two bruisers who are mostly known for their tenacity (as opposed to technical skills), which means the match is likely going to go to the one who flat out refuses to lose (as opposed to the one who figures out how to win). (3:27)

M7 Takanoiwa (0–5) vs. M8 Aoiyama (5–0)—Aoiyama is looking focused this tournament, which is not something that one often gets to say. Given his relatively low ranking, and the shake ups near the top of the banzuke, this gives him a fantastic chance to stay atop the leaderboard deep into Week 2. (5:20)

M5 Chiyoshoma (2–3) vs. M6 Ichinojo (3–2)—This basho Ichinojo is back down the banzuke to a level where he can dominate, but that doesn’t always mean that he will. This is a terrific match as Chiyoshoma tries to find the secret to somehow toppling the lumbering behemoth. (6:10)

Komusubi Yoshikaze (4–1) vs. sekiwake Mitakeumi (3–2)—Two rikishi who have been stealing wins from the ozeki and yokozuna today face off against each other. (8:28)

Ozeki Takayasu (4–1) vs. M2 Tochinoshin (2–3)—Two big strong rikishi who like to perform power sumo, both of them having pretty good tournaments so far. This is the match I was looking forward to most on today’s schedule. (9:55)